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Scaramucci Stirs Turmoil; Ryan Comments about Priebus; Veto for Sanctions Bill; Skinny Repeal of Obamacare; Warning from Administration; Candidate Trump on Repeal and Replace. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 27, 2017 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:12] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

The countdown clock is ticking and we will soon know if Senate Republicans can keep the GOP's Obamacare repeal promise at least on life support.

Plus, remember that campaign promise to run the government like a business? The Joint Chiefs of Staff, you know, the guys who run the military, got no heads up from the president that he was about to change the Pentagon's rules for transgender service.

First though, the new star keeping up with the chaos White House edition. Four days on the job and new White House communications director, well, he's certainly making his mark. Anthony Scaramucci calls the leak of a public record a felony. Wrong. And the publicly challenges the White House chief of staff.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: When I put out a tweet, and I put Reince' name in a tweet, they're all making the assumption that it's him because journalists know who the leakers are. So if Reince wants to explain that he's not a leaker, let him do that.


KING: All righty then.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, Abbey Phillip of "The Washington Post," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, CNN's Phil Mattingly and Jackie Calmes of "The Los Angeles Times."

Now, if the White House staff shake-up that brought in Anthony Scaramucci as communications director was designed to take public all the messy White House staff sniping and in-fighting that previously played out for anonymous sources, then score it a smashing success.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: As you know from the Italian expression, the fish stinks from the head down. But I can tell you two fish that don't stink, OK? And that's me and the president.

I don't like the activity that's going on in the White House. I don't like what they're doing to my friend. I don't like what they're doing to the president of the United States, or their fellow colleagues in the West Wing.

Now, if you want to talk about the staff, we have had odds. We have had differences. When I said we were brothers from the -- from the podium, that's because we're rough on each other. Some brothers are like Cain and Abel. Other brothers can fight with each other and get along. I don't know if this is repairable or not. That will be up to the president.


KING: Again, OK. Well, if the goal on the other hand was to inspire confidence in the Congress or the cabinet that things would start running more smoothly after six months of dizzying White House chaos, well then score the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci on miserable failure.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: And I can tell you what it looks like is going on. You have all these aides that work for the president and they want daddy to love them best. And so they fight over turf and they try to hurt each other.

In this White House, it's out of control. That's point one. Point two, in terms of making all these announcements about who's doing what to whom, somebody ought to check the water in the White House, because folks there seem to grow anxious when they have an unexpressed thought.


KING: Hard to argue with that.

Look, we're laughing about this, but in some ways it's not funny.


KING: It's Anthony Scaramucci's first week on the job and everybody gets an adjustment period. I think maybe he might, in six months or so, think maybe he should have had his in quiet, not on cable television.

But what is the goal here? What he has done is take public the in- fighting that we've all watched play out for six months. Has he advanced health care? No. Has he advanced tax reform? No. Has he advanced infrastructure? No.

Does this help the president, who he says is his friend? I would argue, from my experience in this town, no, or at least not yet. Somebody help me.

JACKIE CALMES, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Typically we can always be a devil's advocate. But in this case, I challenge -- well, you've already challenged. I challenge the others to do it because I can't.

KING: Right.

CALMES: This is a president who said he would only hire the best. And on this day we -- after firing his press secretary essentially last week, and the communications director before that, the attorney general is twisting in the wind, the chief of staff is twisting in the wind, the secretary of state is unsure of his future, and even -- there's even talk about the national security adviser being in trouble.

And this -- like you said, it does not advance his major domestic initiative, this on -- is hanging by a thread in Congress, and he's paying it -- he's making this the news? It's just inexplicable.

MATTINGLY: Yes, I think, interestingly, you know, obviously I'm up on Capitol Hill, I'm covering health care, and within ten minutes of the interview starting, I got a text from somebody who's very deeply involved in health care. It said, when do you think the pivot to health care is coming? That comment -- like, he was clearly being sarcastic.

But then when the interview was over, the same person texted, unbelievable, because this is when they need help. The president had a positive tweet about health care today. Let's focus on that as they try and get this across the line.

I think, one, I'm glad everybody got to see the senator, John Kennedy, is one of the best quotes in Congress right now. He's only been here for six months. He's the best guy to talk to.

KING: Right.

MATTINGLY: I think this just kind of underscores what we've talked about on this show, on this set for months at a time, except it's now out in the public and it almost makes it more device and frankly on Capitol Hill frustrating as everybody is just exasperated. Where's the focus? Can't we just get to the policy?

[12:05:08] KING: And they seem gleeful that it's out in public at the White House, or at least Anthony Scaramucci does, and he says he has the president's backing. He had dinner with the president last night and he came back and did this tweet about he was going to crack down on leaks. He said that his financial disclosure report had been illegally leaked. It's a public document. And he had an @reince45. And then he said, oh, no, I'm not talking about Reince Priebus. I'm not accusing Reince Priebus of anything. I mean at times they do treat us like we're stupid.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. But this morning on the interview he -- you know, made clear what was obvious. Of course he's talking about Reince Priebus. But we've not yet heard from Reince Priebus. And I'm told by people who have spoken to him that he is going to not respond to this. He doesn't believe it's helpful. That he's going to, you know, simply try and, you know, keep things on track. And the most urgent matter is health care.

So I think in all of this, you know, the questions about loyalty, I think Reince Priebus actually has been pretty loyal to this president. We'll see how -- he's also probably used up most of his nine lives. I think the reality here is, most of the people I talk to at the White House, close to the White House, who talk to the president believe that the president is essentially done with him.


ZELENY: But we know he doesn't fire people, though.

PHILLIP: Right. Right.

ZELENY: So who knows how long he will linger there. But I do think that the -- something is -- this is more than just a new communications director.


KING: Right.

ZELENY: Anthony Scaramucci being in the West Wing is a sign of a bigger change.


ZELENY: I don't know if he'll end up as chief of staff or not, but this is not just a new communications director on the phone this morning.

PHILLIP: This is why -- I mean this is why he's here. He's in the White House because the president has decided that he needs a new force in that building. There's been a widespread --

KING: A new force. Forgive me for interrupting, but a force to what end?

PHILLIP: Well, to --

KING: Out reality TV "The Kardashians" and "The Housewives" or to govern?

PHILLIP: To -- to go -- the president is very fixated on leaks.

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: That's what Anthony Scaramucci knows.

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: That's why he keeps repeating it. That's what his job is right now. It is not to be the communications director. It is to ferret out leaks and to rule the White House by fear. And that's what he's been doing for the last five days. It has pleased the president, which is why it continues.

Reince Priebus is in a position of, as Jeff mentioned, where he is kind of viewed widely in the West Wing and outside of it as on -- being on his last legs. The smartest thing for him to do might very well be to stay quiet, but that's not going to stop this pressure from inside and from outside to force him into a corner. And Anthony Scaramucci is doing that out in the open and he's -- the only reason he would do it is because the president has condoned it. He said this morning he has the president's blessing to do what he's doing.

KING: So the president himself publicly humiliates and undermines the attorney general of the United States, he empowers his new communications director to publicly challenge the White House chief of staff. The question again is, especially if you're a Trump voter, especially if you're a Trump voter, are they going to get done the things they promised you?

To get those things done, they need the House speaker involved. Now, he's from Wisconsin. He's a friend of Reince Priebus. They're from the same state. So take it in that context. But, again, does this help get things done? The House speaker thinks not.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I'm not sure what the whole interplay is. All I would say is, as you know, Reince is a very clear friend of mine. Reince is doing a fantastic job at the White House. And I believe he has the president's confidence. So --

QUESTION: He should -- should remain?

RYAN: If those two gentlemen have differences, my advice would be to sit down and settle your differences.

QUESTION: He should remain as chief of staff?

RYAN: I think Reince is doing a great job as chief of staff.


ZELENY: And that's the reason all of this matters. If things were going along swimmingly, if health care was done, if tax reform was underway, if infrastructure was underway, none to this would matter. But it's not. And it's because of the dysfunction inside the very small halls and hallways of the West Wing. It's the only reason that these staff stories matter is because it actually is having a -- an enormous implication on this agenda, which is why he was selected.

KING: Right. People on Capitol Hill -- tell me if I'm wrong -- Paul Ryan, the House speaker, being a good soldier there, and Reince Priebus is his friend, but they don't know who to believe at the White House because one aide tells the next, the next aide tells them why.

CALMES: Right. KING: And that's true at cabinet agencies too. We're going to get to more of this in a minute about how the president announced his transgender policy at the Pentagon. That's the dysfunction. And, again, I'll run the government like a business. You people in Washington are stupid. I'm going to hire the best people. Where?

MATTINGLY: Look, the biggest frustration I've heard, and this is for months starting January 25th almost, is, there's no White House. The White House says this. The White House wants this. Theirs White Houses. And that is extremely complimented.

Look, Speaker Ryan is going to work with whoever the chief of staff is, whether it's Reince Priebus or not. But, you know, as Jeff points out, they're close. The speaker likes Reince a lot. They came up together. They know each other very well. Why alienate somebody when you're trying to get something done who actually has -- there's plenty of reasons to quibble with the legislation strategy in the White House, which Reince has played a very large role, particularly in health care. But why are you going after trying to cut off at the knees the people that have relationships on Capitol Hill? Whether it's working well or not, those relationships exist and they're important and that's exactly why you saw the speaker really give kind of a strong endorsement there.

CALMES: Right.

[12:10:05] KING: And -- but part of it is it's not just about personality. If you -- I want you to listen to Anthony Scaramucci here. He means Reince Priebus when he uses the word "establishment." And people -- Reince Priebus was brought into the administration. There is this sense of this -- now, this is the New Yorker wing. We've heard this from the Steve Bannon wing early in the Trump administration, that some people just don't understand the president.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: There are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president. OK, that is not their job. Their job, from the establishment, through calcification, to sit there and try to withhold the president.


SCARAMUCCI: To rein him in or do things to him --


SCARAMUCCI: That will slow down his agenda.

CUOMO: All right, so let's --

SCARAMUCCI: That's not their job.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: It -- just quickly, number one, if the president thinks there are people around him who are running contrary to his administration or his plan, fire them. Fire them.


KING: You used to do this on television. This is -- it's an interesting conversation on Capitol Hill. Lindsey Graham saying, you know, essentially man up. John Cornyn, the number two of the Senate Republican leadership, said they should work this out like men. They're essentially saying the president's not being a man here.

CALMES: Right.

KING: Forgive me. Go ahead.

CALMES: But let's go back to that quote. I mean think about what that is saying. Scaramucci, this man who just had gotten off the phone with the president, according to him, is saying that there are people within this White House who think they need to save the country from Donald Trump. I mean --

MATTINGLY: It's surreal.

CALMES: It's -- it's --

KING: Right. Right. When you slow it --

CALMES: You can't (INAUDIBLE) --

KING: When you slow it down and think about it -- he just said what?

ZELENY: Right.

PHILLIP: But -- but it reflects --

CALMES: HBO can't come up with a series that defies this.

PHILLIP: I think it reflects -- I mean and he's not wrong about that. There are people in the White House who leak things because they are concerned about what is going on.

CALMES: Right.

PHILLIP: That's the reality.

CALMES: That's right.

PHILLIP: That's what the president is upset about.

CALMES: Right.

PHILLIP: The reason he can't fire people and doesn't fire people is because, who is going to replace them? There's a problem where the president is not trustful of the people who are currently there, let alone the people who are on the outside. CALMES: Right.

PHILLIP: Senate confirmable positions, basically out of the question at this point.

KING: Right.

CALMES: Right.

PHILLIP: They can't get the pipeline moving fast enough. So there's a problem, in addition to the fact that Trump doesn't really fire anybody and has a long history of not really doing that. There is a problem --

CALMES: Except on TV.

PHILLIP: Except on TV.

There is a problem with, when you do get rid of some of these people, who are you going to replace them with? The list is not very long. And the number of people this president trusts is very small.

KING: I'm going to sneak in one more from that interview this morning from Anthony Scaramucci on the question, there's been mixed signals from the White House. Congress is about to send the president, by overwhelming votes by the time they finish, a new billow imposing new sanctions against Russia, North Korea and Iran. Will the president sign it? Here's his new communications director.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He's looking at these sanctions right now. He may decide to veto the sanctions and be tougher on the Russians than the Congress.

CUOMO: Why? Oh, so you think that if he vetoes it, it's because he wants something tougher than what they have in the sanctions bill?

SCARAMUCCI: He may -- no, no, listen, he may -- he may not veto the sanctions. He may sign this -- he may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are or he may veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians.


KING: Help me, Phil, with my legislative -- it's been -- it's been a while since I walked the halls of Congress repeatedly, but they're going to pass this by an overwhelming majority if the president votes it. They have veto-proof majority in both the House and the Senate by the time they're done here, right?

MATTINGLY: By dozens upon dozens upon dozens of lawmakers. I bounced this off House and Senate folks that have been working on the sanctions bill and they're like, look, we don't think he actually knew what he was saying there. He was just kind of rolling around. They didn't think he was going off on something that he'd been told before. But, yes, no, the president can veto whatever he wants. The House and

the Senate will override (INAUDIBLE).

ZELENY: And you don't want your first president's veto, which is a big deal, to be overridden.



ZELENY: I mean talk about a vote of no confidence.

PHILLIP: Especially on this issue.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: But to something that Abbey said about confirmation hearings. Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, sent out a tweet yesterday of his own, and he said, you know, there will not be a confirmation hearing for the attorney general in 2017. Essentially saying --

MATTINGLY: Don't do this.

ZELENY: Don't send anyone up here. So I thought that was very interesting from a wise Iowa farmer who's the chairman of the committee who's been in this town for 40 years.


PHILLIP: I can't think of (INAUDIBLE) in the same -- the same party.

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: They're in the same party.

KING: More Republicans. This has been an interesting week of Republicans starting to get much more public in their frustration with the president.

ZELENY: Circle the wagon.

KING: Up next, from full repeal to repeal and replace to skinny repeal. The clock is ticking. Senate Republicans face a momentous choice.


[12:18:50] KING: Welcome back.

A big afternoon and evening ahead in the United States Senate and in the Obamacare repeal debate. You know the history. Seven years ago Republicans vowed, if given the chance, to outright repeal Obamacare. In the past couple of years, the slogan morphed into repeal and replace as the GOP realized just taking away Obamacare was a tough political sell. Skinny repeal is the latest branding push from the GOP as Republican

leaders try to find a proposal that can get 50 votes and at least keep alive the prospect of getting a bill to President Trump sometime in his first year in office. Today and tonight will tell us a lot about the road ahead and the president offered a tweet nudge this morning. Come on, Republican senators, you can do it, the president said. After seven years, this is your chance to shine. Don't let the American people down.

Democrats, though, aren't impressed with the new label.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: We call it repeal and run plan. They may call it skinny. But it is huge in terms of the cost increases and coverage losses.


KING: Let's start the conversation with Mr. Mattingly, fresh from The Hill.

And let's be honest with people watching. They voted down two proposals already. If they can get the votes for skinny repeal, it's a vehicle. It's not the end game by any means, right? The simple goal here is to have some shell that they can take to negotiations with the House, that then go on for you know what.

[12:20:10] MATTINGLY: That's exactly right. They don't want this to be the end game proposal. They understand, a, what it would probably do to insurance markets and, b, that it doesn't deliver on a lot of the promises, particularly on regulations, when it comes to conservatives, on Medicaid -- basically leaving Medicaid expansion intact. All of these issues wouldn't be addressed.

And so this is purely an option. And they're not even trying to hide it. Senates are telling us and also their members, just vote for this to kick it down the road. Just get into conference. We will address the issues here.

I think one of the big elements that I keep hearing from members is, that's what you told House moderates, vote for this. The Senate is going to fix it. That's what you told us before the motion to proceed on Tuesday, just vote for it and then we'll fix it after that. When are people going to start making tough decisions? When are people actually going to figure something out?

The policy here right now is shifting. What I'm being told right now is the skinny proposal is getting a little bit fatter. You're starting to add things in, add policies in to try and get 50. They are still don't -- they still don't have commitments from 50 senators to actually be able to pass this through. That's what they're working on right now. In about ten minutes they're going to head into the Senate Republican lunch where they will start to hash out kind of the final proposal. This is the best they've got right now. And, again, to your point, the

whole goal, get it to conference, just keep the process moving and hope the momentum and the pressure that comes with it can eventually get the (INAUDIBLE) finished.

KING: And as these previous votes have played out, I'm going to show you six Republican senators who previously voted to repeal Obamacare, who have voted no on repealing right now. If you look at those six right there, the Republicans can only afford to lose two on any final vote, because it's 52-48 in the United States Senate.

What does that tell us about the likelihood, unless these six just flip and change their mind, they've done this now, though, on these earlier -- what does that tell you about the likelihood of any major repeal plan getting through the United States Senate if you have six people who are unwilling to do it and the only way to get them back is to keep the Medicaid expansion or keep Medicare funding or give opioid funding that would take away the conservatives?

ZELENY: Incredibly difficult. But Phil's absolutely right. I mean that's what I'm hearing at the White House and in talking with people in Leader McConnell's office as well. He wants to get this into a conference committee, into a room where it could easily be forgotten about, actually, and they, you know, might move on to other things here. But I still think that's a heavy lift.

People are voting for -- this is probably the most consequential vote that they will make between now and the midterms in November of 2018. So this is a hugely significant thing. I think it's very difficult for them to get it done.

KING: It's a debate -- it's a debate that affects every American. It's a promise that is incredibly important to the Republican base heading into a midterm election. So we'll keep an eye on this.

Part of this hardball -- old trade in politics. A lot of people use it. I want you to -- Dan Sullivan, Republican senator from Alaska, conservative, says he got a phone call from the interior secretary. He says, I'm not going to go into details, he told the "Alaska Dispatch News," but I fear the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of the policies are going to stop. I tried to push back on behalf of all Alaskans. We're facing some difficult times and there's a lot of enthusiasm for the policies that Secretary Zinke and the president have been talking about with regard to our economy. But the message was pretty clear.

Dan Sullivan essentially saying that he got a call, and his colleague, Lisa Murkowski, who is one of those no votes on repeal, got a call essentially -- a threat. You know, lower case "t" on threat. And, again, Lyndon Johnson, that's the way he played. Hardball is not new to politics. Is this within the realm of how it works or is it over the line? What is it?

PHILLIP: It's just so interesting to me that it's all in public. That their response to getting this threat in a private phone call is to immediately telling the newspaper. And I think actually it just highlights the degree to which this administration needs to be prepared for anything that they do that is retaliatory of this nature to become public. And then they have to defend their actions. And I think it shows in some ways that some of these senators are saying, if you want to -- if you want to issue threats, like we -- we're going to play hardball. We're going to put it all out there.

KING: Yes. And how much does this -- this has been a messy problem in Congress. The members of Congress, most of them have been around a lot longer than President Trump. They promised this seven years ago. But how much does this affects his standing in the sense that -- I want you to throw back to the campaign here. The president said this would get done and the president repeatedly said as a candidate, it wouldn't be that hard.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Under Senate rules, that bill can be passed with 51 votes, 51. Not a big deal, especially if we hold the Senate, and I think we will. Meaning, a Republican Congress and a Republican president can save Americans from this disaster in a single afternoon. Very simple.


CALMES: Who knew how hard health care --

MATTINGLY: So it's been a learning --

KING: In a single afternoon.

MATTINGLY: It's been a learning experience I think in the first seven months.

Look, these things are difficult. Health care, as Jeff noted, I know that's the understatement of the century here, but health care affects millions of people. This is real life, real consequences, real repercussions right off the bat. And more importantly, what this last six months has really show is, on health care, there are significant ideological divides inside the Republican Party. This -- there are differences of opinion about how much government should be involved here. I think the White House is very clear on that right now and I think they point to tax reform. News flash on that, tax reform is going to be pretty damn hard, too.

[12:25:10] KING: Same -- same idea. Same issues.

MATTINGLY: Same old types of dynamics.

I will say one quick thing on the Lisa Murkowski thing. Anybody who paid attention to her 2010 Senate race, where she lost the primary and then won as a write-in candidate and has dealt with her on Capitol Hill knows that this isn't something that's going to shift her in any way, shape or form.

And also -- so I'm not totally sure how smart it is in that sense, although, as you say, other administrations have done stuff like this. This isn't out of the realm of normal. That it's becoming public is.

KING: Right.

MATTINGLY: The other thing that's interesting here is, she's the chairwoman of a committee that oversees the Interior Department and Ryan Zinke. So it's -- so that's an interesting play here, threatening the person who oversees your department and you. OK.

ZELENY: And at the end of the day it's presidential leadership.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: And the president has not let on this. His standing was higher when he was at that rally than -- than it is now. No one's afraid of him and he's not leading on the issue. That's the underlining issue here.

KING: Right. Yes, I think payback is -- what's that saying? Never mind.

Up next, President Trump tweets announcing the ban on transgender people in the military caught a lot of people off guard, including the military brass.


[12:30:07] KING: Welcome back.

The Pentagon is asking the White House for guidance on just what the president envisioned when he announced on Twitter yesterday his administration would